The journal of a Kentucky culture vulture
The initial allure of Ben Sollee is that he is a guy who plays cello, but also loves the folk music of his home state of Kentucky. Rather than rack his cello in favor of an acoustic guitar, he has forged his own path and one of the more distinctive careers in roots music with his big box of wood.
Our first big taste of his sound, musically and lyrically rooted deep in the Bluegrass, was his 2008 debut, Learning to Bend. Sticking with his non-traditional tradition, Sollee’s follow-up is a collaborative album with singer-songwriter Daniel Martin Moore, Dear Companion.
The pairing of Sollee and Moore is somewhat reminiscent of early Simon and Garfunkel, when that duo was mining traditional folk songs for material. While there nothing quite as gorgeous as Scarborough Fair/Canticle here, their performance and lyrics are much closer to their source.
Sollee gets around his cello giving us sounds such as the deep drones of Sweet Marie and fleet plucking of Try. It’s an instrument that works beautifully in harmony with Moore’s guitar and other traditional instruments such as banjo.
These are familiar sounds to Sollee fans as are pointed lyrics, in this case mostly speaking out against mountaintop removal coal mining. But Moore’s presence seems to show in the way the points of songs like Flyrock Blues and Sweet Marie creep up on the listener – not quite as overt as songs like If You’re Gonna Lead My Country. The standout track is Only a Song, a Sollee composition that caught listeners’ ears in its original recording with My Morning Jacket’s Jim James, the producer of Dear Companion.
Sollee caught music fans’ attention with something a little different, but on Dear Companion he and Moore show they’ll be sticking around thanks to a much more time-honored quality: growth.
About Rich Copley & Copious Notes
Raised by opera-loving parents in a rock ’n’ roll world, Rich Copley has parlayed his broad interests into his career writing about arts and entertainment. Since 1998, he has covered performing arts, film and faith-based popular culture for the Lexington Herald-Leader, the daily newspaper in Lexington, Ky. MORE | E-mail Rich